Three Ways Design Can Help Retail Survive in 2021

/ Three Ways Design Can Help Retail Survive in 2021

Even before corona (remember then?), brick-and-mortar stores were already feeling the pinch from online competition. In 2019 Amazon sales were $280 billion — because you can’t beat the convenience of finding the perfect size, color, and price, without getting off a chair.

Around the world, people are spending trillions in online purchases — and that number keeps growing. Every. Single. Year.

That’s leaving many brick-and-mortar stores out in the cold…but surprisingly not all. Which retails stores are able to survive and even thrive? The ones that find innovative ways to compete with (or outshine) the online experience — especially through design. 

That’s why, if you’re embarking on a new retail venture or considering a renovation, it’s crucial to consider these three “C”s of design:


I’ll admit it. I hate running errands. 

As much as I love browsing Target or HomeGoods — who doesn’t need a neon-colored spatula?! — I don’t have time for that. And neither do you. Or most consumers these days. We want in and out of the store fast. We just want to find what we need, at a good price. We don’t want to have to walk around the whole place, getting more and more frustrated. Why aren’t the kitchen towels near the rest of the kitchen stuff?! Arrrrgh!

That’s why a major trend in retail store design now is making shopping more convenient. One key strategy: shifting layouts so similar items are grouped together. Like Walmart, which is putting all the electronics into one section, all the baby stuff into another, and so on. True, these categories existed in the past, but they’d still distribute some electronics throughout the rest of the store. Not anymore. Want something with a battery? Head straight to electronics. 

Another crucial update: Clear “navigation” throughout the store, with easy-to-see, intuitive signage and directional markers. They guide you exactly where you need to go and how to get out expediently. For instance, aisle headers are broken down into highly specific categories: “Frozen potatoes” “Powdered drinks” “Diabetic food” — a boon to every man with their significant other’s shopping list in hand. Many stores even have a directory right at the door when you first walk in, like a mall or an airport. No time-wasting necessary!

Connection to Technology

It’s the 2020s. We’re all tech-savvy, and stores get it. But they need to get their tech design exactly right, by applying technological solutions that make shopping easier, more attractive, even seamless — not overly complicated.  

Luckily, there’s an app for that. Many, many apps. Retail stores are developing apps that help you find products in the store — or before you’re even inside. Order that gorgeous blouse in the exact color and size you need, and have it ready and waiting in the designated pick-up area when you get there. In many retail locations, parking lots have already been redesigned with convenient, labeled parking specifically for order pickups. 

Tech is also lending an experiential component to shopping that’s making going to a store exciting again — something to be shared. Heard of selfie mirrors? These camera-enabled mirrors provide perfect lighting and will even snap your picture for you. Some of them will also “see” what you’re trying on and offer complimentary accessories you might want to purchase too.

Contactless (& Cleanliness)

The key to successful retail these days is to leave most of it up to the customer. That is, take the contact-with-other-humans out of the equation.

It’s not just coronavirus — although that’s a large part of it. (I’ve already expounded on the sanitary trends we’ll be seeing post-corona in this article. Stores will definitely keep taking steps to ensure safe, germ-free environments — like barriers, social distancing markers, and easy-to-clean surfaces and materials.)

Besides the contagion component, relying on another human is more time-consuming and less efficient — and leaves you with less control over the experience. Remember how you used to wait to get your feet measured in shoe stores, then the sales rep would go into the back to see what they had in your size? Nike stores now have apps that let you try on shoes without waiting for a person. I’m not saying all sales reps and clerks will be replaced by robots (at least not yet). But a true sign of the times: Costco has redesigned to include self-checkout! 

Adept retailers are finding creative designs that minimize contact without sacrificing aesthetics. One brilliant solution: classy “retro-looking” pods in restaurants that afford diners the privacy and low-contact they crave. Instead of being an eyesore, they’re an interesting, almost playful design element.  


Micky Klein Interiors

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